The summers of my youth were intense rites of watching minor league ball games with my grandfather, bare-backed horses, swimming, crackling buzzing nights with chess pieces and a short-wave radio over the sound of distant trains. Summers were given to running, brown and busy, with hardly a sense of time.
In the blazing summer of ’69 these my rites were interrupted. I ceased scraping my knees for a few days and gave myself mind and imagination to the black and white console TV in my grandparents’ Montana living room.
During the earlier Gemini and Apollo missions I was a fanatic acolyte of NASA. With each launch I rushed home from school to see what might be going on. I slept on the couch with the TV on, deeply annoyed with simulations. I knew the tag names of each spacecraft, the astronauts, what they did on the missions. I built models of the Mercury and Gemini capsules. The Gemini capsule had little astronauts who could come out of their seats for space walks. I used the precise term, of course: Extra-Vehicular Activity.
As the day of the big launch approached, I biked to a store across town on my green sting-ray with the taped over cracked white seat in search of a thing sublime. At last I bought that big box, that grail, that model kit of the Apollo.
Within the Sacred Carton, barely to be balanced on the handle bars, there were arrayed in webs of parts and pieces the Command and Service Modules, a Lunar Module or “LEM” with retractable legs, and the housing for the same. I worked and worked on that model. I cut and trimmed and glued. I painted and applied the decals. I followed every rubric, intoned all the directions. No piece was excluded in impious haste. I scrounged a map of the Moon, even a little Moon globe. The secrets of why one side was dark were revealed. Why she waxed and waned were not hidden from me. I knew where the Mar tranquillitatis was, and even what it was.
Columbia and Eagle.
Men were going to go to, orbit, land on, walk upon the surface of the Moon.
It was time empyrean.
When the actual landing took place, I was there. During the walk there was no move, no shadowy lunar suggestion I didn’t see or crackle I didn’t strain for.
But true acolyte as I was, I was eventually impelled outside. I had to see it happening, face to face.
It was July, hot, still. The stars glittered and the Moon gazed back, silver white and gray. Everywhere there echoed the same broadcast sounds. The block synchronized with the same flashes and flickers from every living room. No leaf moved in distraction … and it wasn’t science fiction.
Men were up there walking.
Forty years ago.
Shakespeare called our Moon an arrant thief. Year in and year out she may snatch her pale fire from the sun, but in that young summer she bestowed on me bright memories.
It was an age – a closing age as it turns out – when browned kids ran free in their own games. We dashed through yards and houses were not locked. No sprinkler was unchallenged and every tree held out an invitation.
I remember my grandparents and that summer. I remember a summer without sunscreen when it was still right to be just a boy. I was nine, simply into everything, and men walked on the Moon.